The Gods are Bigger than Us, How We Treat One Another Is Important, and These Two Statements Have Nothing To Do With One Another

This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read about the relationship between human and Power. I can’t even quote a single line – you have to read the whole thing. This is spectacular and I’ll be ruminating on River’s words for a while. What a wonderful voice, and I look forward to reading more!!

riverdevora

As the broader Western Polytheist communities have grown in recent years, there has been quite a lot of vigorous debate about the nature of polytheism, who “counts” as a polytheist, who has the authority to speak about polytheism, etc. This debate is healthy and a very good sign in my opinion – it shows that we all care enough about the ongoing development of our religions and our religious communities that we are willing to wrestle with definitions, beliefs and practices. My concern with the debates as they have been developing is that some participants seem to be trying to exclude others based on ideology that may or may not have anything to do with any one person’s specific polytheist religion. My concern as well is that we are so busy arguing over whose polytheism is *wrong* and what polytheism shouldn’t be, that we are not talking nearly enough about…

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Cernunnos in the springtime

Since Spring has come, I’ve felt a slightly different presence around my Home. The fact that it felt like Cernunnos immediately sounded the alarm in my Head; I am so used to His absence that, when there is presence, I feel it immediately. But this is different – and, at the same time, truly the same in every way.

This Cernunnos is slightly younger: brown-gold hair, a charming broad smile, forest green eyes – that bright rich color that leaves show off when the afternoon rays hit them. He’s a young King of the Forest, full of laughter and jokes. He comes bounding up like a young, proud colt, and for a moment I’m frozen because I can’t logically understand that it’s Him.

Miss Me? I can’t help but laugh at Him; in all of His radiance, mischief plays about in the corners of His smile. If I ever had any doubt in my mind that Cernunnos was King of the Fae, it’s gone.

“Yes… and no,” I chuckled. In all honesty I had become used to the Dark King – the god I married had been serious, the god of whipping and cruel absence and blood and Winter and the Hunt. (To His credit, though, the days before and after were actually very sweet). He was terrifying, showing great majesty in that maddening power He exuded under His black pelts. (I found this post and this post on my old blog; they’re the closest I’ve come so far to depictions of Him in this way).

I told Him all this, laughing that just as I was getting used to having Him around, He changed out of the blue. In a way, I was already mourning the Dark King. I had gotten used to Him, had been getting better at accustoming myself to the idea that what we had was perfectly fine, and that He comes and goes as He pleases.

Well, get used to it, He smiled. Winter’s gone.

This Cernunnos was the one who asked me to marry Him. This Cernunnos is the sunlight in the meadows, the crowning glory of the Forest. This Cernunnos wades in all places, is the last ray of light shining through the spiderwebs in the impenetrable parts of forest. This Cernunnos weaves spring into every flower, speaks to bees and races with the hawks. This Cernunnos is the young stag fresh with responsibilities, full of enchantment and energy – and, yet, He is older than all of the rest, for He has done this since the birth of time. This Cernunnos is the gleeful Robin Hood tearing through the Sherwood, bags of gold coins rustling in his hands as he once again foils the Sheriff of Nottingham.

And His magic is strong, crackling and circling in a way that perhaps I had not felt before. It spits at me like frying oil jumping from the pan, burning my skin and scalding me.

I saw Him when I was Seering, on a vision-hunt through meadows and marshland. There was gold in the light that nuzzled the bark of trees; songs and hymns in the wind; dancing in the leaves and stalks unabashed and free. He laughed at the taken-aback expression on my face, holding me and grinning. I felt like an animal, soaring with the energy to run, like a young doe that just wanted to play-fight and race and butt my head against His neck. I wanted to be a trouble-maker, to pull pranks on Mother, to spend nights star-watching in the flower beds and have Him teach me each star as we tangled up in each other.

“It’s just fantasy,” I confessed with a sheepish smile. Maybe this was just in my head, the vision-hunting I do. No matter how many times it is proven otherwise, I still return to the root of discernment. But His next words shattered the reins in my hands:

It never is. 

He’s back.

EDIT: Thanks to my Sister, Julie, for posting a photo closest to what He looks like to us. Apparently, He’s been showing up like this, too! The only difference for me would be that He’s clean-shaven.

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Source

 

Who sounds like The New Right now?

I’ve been very uncertain about writing this. Last night, I gave this article on Gods&Radicals a read after I saw it on my feed and, to be honest, it’s really bottomed me out. I kept reading the article, over and over, to make sure that I was reading exactly what I was reading. And something in me truly embittered, because I was reading things that weren’t true – and some things that were true were twisted in a way that made it something radical to war against. This was a struggle for me to write, and I feel that it doesn’t back the titanium-hardness that my writing usually does, so I apologize that it’s terribly written.

Rhyd Wildermuth has notified publicly that he was the writer of this piece, and of course the article does represent Gods&Radicals as a whole. I think that he will be writing a follow-up piece on this, so I look forward to that when it comes out.

I am exhausted of this conversation. I am tired of it. I am bitter. And it’s because of this deep-seated exhaustion, tiredness, embitterment that I’m writing. This is, in many ways, an attack not only on the gods, but also an attack of the human beings who engage with them in a different way than those at Gods&Radicals do – an attack of using very valid concerns and good, necessary points to craft a battlefield: us versus them, right versus wrong.

But, of course, that’s not discriminatory, dishonest, or fascist. Not at all.

I do believe that what is being talked about is important to talk about. I do think it’s important to take a look at negative presences in any tradition, structure, or movement. I think it’s important to honestly take a look at the impact of capitalism and power structures in our lives and in our religions. I also think it’s important that, when we speak of these traditions, structures, and movements, we provide a fair and unbiased look as we possibly can. And, yes, this is difficult – and all the more reason to do it, because acts of justice and setting-right are founded upon the clarity of the truth.

Truth is the last thing I see in this article.

Devotional Polytheism: Similar to the problems in Reconstructionism, but with an extra dimension. Because Devotional Polytheism places final authority in ‘the gods’ and emphasises hierarchical relationships (between human and god, priest and devotee), ethical questions cannot be challenged by concerned people because ‘the gods will it.’

For a blog titled Gods&Radicals, written for by bloggers who claim to have their work of a polytheist-led project blessed with the gods and spirits, I find it fascinating that ‘the gods’ is put in quotation marks. (Then again, I am not surprised).

Devotional polytheism is gods-centric. It is fully receptive to the will of the gods and places us in various positions of engagement with the gods and Their interests.  This position of engagement is voluntary, and everyone has a different kind of engagement. Neither is lesser nor greater.

However, I cannot get over that last part:

… ethical questions cannot be challenged by concerned people because ‘the gods will it.’

I have never heard of anything more ridiculous or dishonest in my life. Never have I been part of a conversation (whether actively contributing to it or simply reading/listening) where this has happened: where no one has asked questions, or where someone has shut down conversation with “There’s no if, ands, our buts about it because God X told me to do this and you’re being impious in questioning Their will.” If anything, we actively fight that sort of thinking. Being someone who meaningfully engages with their faith is being someone who demands, of themselves and others, the truth – constantly, not just for our benefit or our comfort level.

This article suggests that people who engage with the gods (in ways they don’t approve, of course) simply accept any movement of discernment without checking. Double checking. Triple checking. Pleading. Doubting. Questioning. Fighting again. As if devotional polytheists everywhere were running around telling each other not to question anything and not to have any conversations about, say, the role of animal sacrifice in ceremony or the ontology of the gods. Accepting divine will immediately is not a prerogative of mine, neither a goal. Using divine will as an excuse (and/or lie) to get other people to do what I want them to do is no prerogative nor goal, either, and I will stop it when I see it. This article suggests that both are done by devotional polytheists as well as other traditions and practices, and that both are movements backed by mindless, fundamentalist, unreasonable people. Putting the gods first is much, much more than simply explaining it away as merely a hierarchical structure, and it’s clear here that the truth is conveniently overseen and presented in a way so simplified and stripped of meaning that it’s actually a lie.

And as John Beckett said perfectly in his piece Guilt By Association: “Yes, fascists and racists may abuse [beliefs and practices that are meaningful and sacred to some of us], but that does not make them dangerous in and of themselves.” This article suggests that anything in the list under “What is the New Right’s influence on paganism” has an unhealthy structure yielding unhealthy results.

I think this is just a very subtle way to further drive in a particular nail that’s been hammered in for a long time: that people who believe in Powers outside of themselves are backwards, primitive, superstitious, crazy, imbalanced, and devoid of critical thinking skills or moral compasses. It also shows a desire or inability to understand the complexities, intricacies, and grappling-struggles of a life of faith when intimately engaged with the Powers, or at least to understand that these things are present in polytheism for many people. It shows a position that the gods don’t matter and shouldn’t matter – that maybe They should be present, but insofar as They can be controlled and manipulated by Us. And it shows a BIG problem with authority, even with the gods present or with people who have decided to give their lives into service for the gods.

(Funny that: a blog whose creator has admitted is led by the Powers, because “the gods will for this project to continue,” is putting this opinion forward. But, of course, this article is the right way to do it, right?)

And it’s not to say that I think devotional polytheism is safe from someone who wants to take advantage of it. But as John Beckett said perfectly in his piece Guilt By Association: “Yes, fascists and racists may abuse [beliefs and practices that are meaningful and sacred to some of us], but that does not make them dangerous in and of themselves.”

This article exists on a platform that claims to support different perspectives for a greater polytheism – yet it calls for the same us v. them, “enemy at the gates” mentality that it cries against. So I’ll close with my own list of “What Else Can We Do?” for consideration.

Ask Uncomfortable Questions. Where is the name of the writer in this article? Where are the sources, the documentation behind the statements in this article? Why is the article written with such obfuscation, making things unclear and superficial especially for readers who might not have any idea of what’s going on? Why is Feri, a mystery tradition, hailed to be “much more immune to the New Right’s influence” when other mystery traditions in that same article are posted in the “New Right Influence of Paganism” list? Did anyone else notice that, from the list, the “reconstructionist,” “devotional polytheism,” and “mystery traditions” descriptions specifically were devoid of positive qualities?  And for an article that calls for us to ask questions and challenge the structure, where’s the comments button?

Demand clear stances from leaders. I will never debate the reality that many people have taken advantage of what is supposed to be a position of clean, honest, c/Community oriented service such as priesthood, leader etc. I will never, ever tell someone to stop questioning or to hold back an inquiry simply for one’s position. But positions in leadership and service do not, as a standard, lead to all manners of abuses. We should always be on the look-out for abusers and people who have ulterior motives, using the gods or the will of the gods for their own personal advancement (sound familiar?). This article suggests that some of us do not watch out for ‘false prophets’ and simply swallow anything that has the sentences ‘This is the will of the gods’ attached without thinking twice. And, granted, if we are to restore traditions, it’s always good to have wise-people about: people who are trained, people who have an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom to help guide others to the gods, people who can be leaders in a community. People in our communities – and communities everywhere – need people to help – or do people simply go mountain-climbing on a whim without a teacher? Who does a community member turn to when they’re having a really difficult time in their practice, or a life-changing situation that they don’t know how to process? Demanding clear stances from leaders shouldn’t be an activity backed solely on the premise that community leaders are only in this for the money and the power.

Build strong connections across traditions. I find this one difficult to reconcile logically with the article, considering there was an entire list of traditions who were associated with fascism or fascist tendencies – how could you ask that of others when, in the article, it is wickedly present? How can you ask to build strong connections across traditions when an article has been published that has listed several traditions as ‘guilty by association’, as Beckett has stated, and provides a ‘guide’ to fighting The New Right? (Or should we only build strong connections with certain traditions?)

Challenge divine proclamations: Oh, I have a challenge. The gods at Gods&Radicals sing their tune a little too loudly, I think. My personal opinion? They’re doing the same thing that they cry against: they’re using the gods for their benefit, for their message. And the message I hear is this, whether it was an intended message or not:

“You (and ‘the gods’) can have as much authority as I am comfortable with,” says this article, “and if you don’t agree with me, you clearly have been influenced by fascism and you’re a threat that needs to be fought against. We stand for everything right in a world gone wrong. And in a world where it’s us v. them, here’s what we can do to get started on being on the right side of the fight. We’re an authority on this, after all; we know what we’re talking about. We’re Gods&Radicals.”

Who sounds like The New Right now?

 

 

 

 

Words, Words, Words

I wish I could keep this up on my blog forever.

Gangleri's Grove

Someone asked me just a few minutes ago why I was fighting over a word.

Polytheism is not just a word.

It is an identity, a community, a container of traditions.

For Halstead and his faction, polytheism is a word, nothing more, and one that he’s willing to twist and corrupt out of true. No one owns words after all and he has already expressed his willingness to relativize them. Words don’t demand integrity. They are flexible tools.

For me and many other polytheists, polytheism is not a word. It is a living thing. It is a community made up of a variety of specific traditions. It is synonymous with those traditions themselves.

It is not just a word (though if it were, I would still question his right to use it, given that despite the rantings of our post-modernist friends, words do actually mean things). It is so much…

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To clarify my opinion re: this Politics v. Devotion and why there shouldn’t even be a versus

Yesterday I reblogged a post by Galina that was talking about how John Halstead was now a writer at Gods&Radicals. (Per Rhyd Wildermuth’s clarifying comment, I stand corrected: Halstead has been writing for Gods&Radicals for a while, albeit intermittently). I was caught off guard, and so I reblogged with the following post, provided unedited:

For fuck’s sake. Everyone who takes their polytheism seriously MUST read this. There is yet another terrible issue in our work to establish ourselves, and it is taking a political AND anti-theist stance that I am NOT liking. My religion is not a political position. It CAN include politics, as politics houses values and power relations, but religion should never BE a political position. There’s a big difference between advancing polytheism peacefully and equally in various, diverse directions (including politics and social justice), and crafting polytheism into a political position [instead of a tradition where the gods come first and social justice arises from this tradition]. I care about developing devotion, tradition, and right-relationship with the gods… AND having Halstead in this? I have a terrible, terrible feeling about this….

And Rhyd replied:

Hi. Just as a note of clarification, John Halstead has been one of the many, many writers at Gods&Radicals since its founding. He’s not new.

We do not insist on theological purity nor ideological purity in our writing collective. We’re against hierarchy and authoritarianism–we don’t police the beliefs and practices of our writers, nor would it make any sense to come up with a Statement of Belief for our writers to conform to.

And while most of us are polytheists (including all of the board and myself), we’re honoured to feature the writing of many other iterations of Paganism, and will absolutely continue to do so with the blessings of the many gods and spirits who’ve taken an interest in our work, and for whom we offer it. And besides, my gods don’t disappear because someone doesn’t believe in them the same way I do; I doubt yours will, either! 🙂

Taking into consideration that that last line was really a jab Taking into consideration that Rhyd and Galina are having personal issues mixing in with their ideological differences as well as the differences between their goals and what they want to bring to polytheism, this is what I have to say as an outsider who does not know Galina nor Rhyd personally, who does not know their relationship personally, and who is reading only what is being posted up so far.

I think working to restore cultus, devotion, tradition, space for the gods is a wonderful thing. I also think working to fight hierarchy, authoritarianism, and the evils of capitalism backed by polytheism is a wonderful thing; I don’t see how social justice and reform isn’t an offering to the gods or working to make space for the gods. (If social justice and religion weren’t tied together, there wouldn’t be social justice cores in theology programs, nor activism sustained by/for pagan groups, and/or liberation theology in any kind of religion. I certainly see how religion and politics come together and flow parallel to each other).

I actually agree with a lot that Rhyd says in his articles on capitalism (and anti-capitalism, for that matter). I also agree with a lot that Galina brings to the table on restoring devotion and encouraging people to develop a deep connection to the gods in whatever way they do so. Who’s to say that Rhyd’s great work isn’t heavily influenced by his deep devotion to the gods he works with – and who’s to say that Galina’s great work to publicly and privately establish cultus isn’t a form of activism for both the gods and for polytheists everywhere?

I hope that what you see here is this: both Galina’s and Rhyd’s approaches are equally valid and contribute to the greater diversity of polytheism. What Galina and Rhyd write from their stances doesn’t actually go against each other (and I am talking specifically within the parameters of the cultus and anti-capitalist stands, respectively). And what Galina and Rhyd have to bring to the table is equally important. It NEEDS to be talked about!

So why is it looking like we need to start deciding (and soon!) that we need to take sides? I’m not computing, apart from me understanding that there is a personal-relationship level to this that I’m not touching simply because I’m not Galina and I’m not Rhyd.

My religion is not a political position. It CAN include politics, as politics houses values and power relations, but religion should never BE a political position. There’s a big difference between advancing polytheism peacefully and equally in various, diverse directions (including politics and social justice), and crafting polytheism into a political position [instead of a tradition where the gods come first and social justice arises from this tradition].

When I wrote this, I was attempting to share four thoughts of mine: one, that I don’t think religion should ever be a political position and that is not what I am working towards; two, that I do understand the intimate relationship between religion and politics; three, that I fully support advancing polytheism peacefully and equally in various, diverse directions, as it damn well should (including politics and social justice); and four, that I personally think that a healthy relationship with engagement in politics and social justice comes from having established traditions and cultus (which is why I said, at the very beginning of this post, that I support fighting work backed by polytheism).

What I am nervous about is that we will come to a position where I will need to take sides – where we will all need to take sides because of this. And it doesn’t have to be that way! We don’t have to come to that! There isn’t one way to develop something, and there are many spheres that need our attention, that have the attention of the gods. Both Rhyd and Galina have really, really important Work, and I just wish they’d just talk it out, but of course that’s none of by business.

I think anyone who takes their religion seriously should always think about what they want to do for their god(s), what they want to do for their community, and what they want to do for the world. If it’s anti-capitalist social justice, awesome! If it’s restoring cultus, great! I don’t see these things as mutually exclusive – nor, in my opinion, should they be.

What I will certainly not do is support things that I see as wrong. Everyone has a right to their opinion, to develop and critique, and to grow in their differences; and everyone, I think, also has an obligation to cry out wrongs, whether it’s something institutional or something that someone else just casually says. I do not want to pick sides, because if someone asks me what my goal is for polytheism, I will answer every time, “Restoring cultus.” That is what I am working towards and that is what I have been Asked to do, on both a personal and public level. I don’t think Rhyd should be singled out because he has a different goal from Galina, but one does have to make the distinction that it is not the same goal. And that’s okay. The problem begins when that goal starts competing for attention.

Speaking of competing for attention, no, I don’t like that Halstead is on Gods&Radicals. And that’s just my damn opinion, as I have the right to complain and I have a reason for doing so. To me, Halstead is doing the equivalent of walking into a Catholic church and saying, “Okay, so I’m here. I want to be a Catholic, and I want you to call me a Catholic. But since I personally believe that Jesus Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, and the saints are archetypes, I want you to change the liturgy to reflect this ontology, and I want the theists to be totally on-board with this. Oh, and remember to call me a Catholic, because I am a Catholic.” I don’t like that at all…. and that’s just my opinion. Anyone can do as they like but, well, people are always going to say something. I don’t think Halstead’s actions are conducive to a healthy paganism or to restoring cultus – so, of course I’m not going to like his actions.

Just like Rhyd, just like Galina, I will forward what I believe is right and I will call out what I see as wrong – I believe that I have an obligation as a believer and as a human being to do so. And on that one tiny sentence, maybe we can all agree. And maybe, just maybe, we can have a fruitful conversation that leads to a healthier development of polytheism.

Surprise, Surprise

For fuck’s sake. Everyone who takes their polytheism seriously MUST read this. There is yet another terrible issue in our work to establish ourselves, and it is taking a political AND anti-theist stance that I am NOT liking. My religion is not a political position. It CAN include politics, as politics houses values and power relations, but religion should never BE a political position. There’s a big difference between advancing polytheism peacefully and equally in various, diverse directions (including politics and social justice), and crafting polytheism into a political position [instead of a tradition where the gods come first and social justice arises from this tradition]. I care about developing devotion, tradition, and right-relationship with the gods… AND having Halstead in this? I have a terrible, terrible feeling about this….

Gangleri's Grove

John Halstead is now writing for Gods and Radicals. That pretty much says it all for me. If I ever doubted that the political radical part of things took significant precedence over the Gods part of that equation for these people, I can put my mind at rest. It’s obvious where they stand. I’ve been noticing for a while now that this group seems to be subtly attacking polytheists who are more interested in building the tradition and in devotion than in exchanging religion for pseudo-social justice work and anarchic politics. I can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t the real reason Sannion was disinvited from Many Gods West.

After all, Halstead keeps taking digs at polytheism. His latest, which Tess Dawson brilliantly calls out here, dismisses polytheism as having been inspired by Neil Gaiman’s writing.* Apparently, we can’t simply enjoy an author’s work without having some pitiful…

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